Going Meta

Issue 38 · November/December 2021

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Journal Benchmarking

C&E is pleased to have released our 2021 benchmarking report on Editorial Metrics in Physical Sciences. The report is being sent to participants of our physical sciences cohort. If you edit or publish a physical sciences journal and did not participate but would like to in the future, please let us know. We’ll be happy to include your titles in our 2022 study.

We are presently recruiting for the next study cohort: Life Sciences. If you edit or publish a journal (either published independently or via a publishing services agreement with a commercial partner) in the life sciences and wish to participate or learn more, please let us know (benchmarking@ce-strategy.com).

Events and Presentations

David Crotty is delivering the APE Lecture on January 11th at the 2022 iteration of the Academic Publishing in Europe (APE) Meeting, unfortunately now an all-virtual event (we had hoped to see many colleagues IRL). David also has written up part of his recent UKSG talk as a Scholarly Kitchen blog post entitled “Market Consolidations and the Demise of the Independently Publishing Research Society.”

Work at C&E

Clarke & Esposito is hiring a Data Analytics and Insights Manager. If you enjoy working with data and wish to help develop our benchmarking service (see above), we’d love to hear from you. This is an opportunity to work with organizations across the industry and help to support C&E’s clients with data to inform evidence-based decisions. For more information and to apply, please see the position description or contact John Hartnett (john@jackfarrell.com).

Going Meta


Unless you have been living under a virtual rock, you have no doubt by now heard the news that Mark Zuckerberg has renamed his iconic company “Meta.” This is a reference to the “metaverse”—a term coined by Neal Stephenson in the seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (Stephenson confirms he was not consulted about the name change). The metaverse, in both Stepheson’s novel and Zuckerberg’s announcement, is basically a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) interface to the Internet. Instead of interacting on web browsers, the user interface for the metaverse is a pair of goggles or glasses or perhaps a projected image.
Of course Facebook makes just such a goggle: the Oculus. And indeed this is likely a big part of Zuckerberg’s push into the metaverse. Apple, Google, and Microsoft own the devices and operating systems used by the majority of people to access the Internet. And Apple has just demonstrated the dent it can put in Facebook’s revenue with a few changes to its privacy policies. Zuckerberg wants to move beyond mobile (and desktop) to VR interfaces so that there are no gatekeepers to Facebook. Whether the majority of people are ready for an immersive VR experience is an open question—as is whether they want such an experience from Meta or someone else. Where this goes and on what timeline is anyone’s guess.
It is worth noting that Facebook is not going away. The social network will still be called “Facebook.” What is changing is the name of the company that owns the social network. Beyond signaling Zuckerberg’s desired direction of travel toward VR, the brand shift better accommodates the company’s growing portfolio beyond its social network: WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus. These brands were overshadowed by Facebook, and now the company’s brand has more separation from the discrete products in its portfolio.
Despite the flood of news stories about the name change, there was scarcely more than a passing nod to the fact that the Meta brand was already in use by Zuckerberg. Many readers of The Brief will be aware of Meta (Meta.org), the scientific paper discovery platform founded by Sam and Amy Molyneux. Meta(.org) was acquired by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in 2017, hence bringing the brand and associated URLs to Zuckerberg’s philanthropic enterprise (Joe was a board member of Meta prior to the acquisition and remained an advisor after joining the CZI portfolio). It is worth noting that Meta(.org) began its existence as Sciencescape—Facebook is not the first organization to rebrand as Meta.  
The original sense of “meta” in the Meta(.org) brand was a reference to the extrapolated layer of information that could be compiled and gleaned through analysis of the scientific literature. In other words, more metadata than metaverse. That said, what is the metaverse but an extrapolated layer of information on the physical world?
The story of Meta is emblematic of a broader narrative about technology adoption. When the Web came along, it was originally conceived of as a mechanism for scientific and scholarly communication. It was not designed for consumer and commercial applications, which has resulted in numerous privacy and business model challenges (see also the prevalence of the advertising model and the challenges of IP authentication). Scientists and scholars, along with scholarly publishers, were early adopters of the Web. The consumer Web followed but ultimately became so much larger that it is the developers of consumer Web applications that now set the pace of development and indeed bring applications back to the research world (see also: Google Scholar). And so the name Meta moves from its scholarly context to encompass the brand of a company with billions of users. It also is emblematic of the direction of travel of the underlying technology—the computer vision and haptic technologies that will support any instantiation of the metaverse originated in earlier academic research of the kind discoverable on Meta.org. 
Meta.org will be discontinued in 2022, in part, no doubt, to avoid brand confusion. But Meta.org never really found its footing under CZI’s stewardship even before the great brand switcheroo. In this sense, Meta also provides a cautionary tale about the role of research funders and the sustainability of scholarly resources. There are many who think that research funders should take over the creation and maintenance of scholarly infrastructure, and just run their own platforms that bypass publishers. As a thought experiment, it is worth pondering if Meta.org would be shuttering if it had been purchased not by a philanthropic organization but by a for-profit publisher or analytics company? Imagine, for example, if Wiley (who is on a bit of an acquisition blitz—see Item 2 below) had purchased Meta. Would Meta.org still exist and have better fulfilled its vision and become a valued service to researchers? (And might we all have been spared having the brand Scitrus inflicted upon us?) Of course for-profits sunset products all the time (looking at you Google Reader), so who knows what might have been in an alternate Wileyverse. The point is simply that without a clear business model, or without being central to the mission of the organization (any organization), such tools and platforms become subject to changes in priorities, political winds, and other institutional weather.

Source: The Washington Post, Facebook, Neal Stephenson (@nealstephenson) via TwitterThe Financial Times, WiredQuartz, Meta.org, Scitrus

Professional and Academic Publishing


Speaking of the Wileyverse, Wiley continues to expand its services offerings with the acquisition of Knowledge Unlatched (KU). The acquisition follows on the heels of the purchase of J&J Editorial and precedes the (just announced as The Briefwas going to press) acquisition of eJournalPress
The story of KU provides a counterpart to that of Meta. Our understanding is that KU spent years seeking investment, including from research funders, but were ultimately unsuccessful in doing so. Funders seem much more interested in supporting potentially game-changing but riskier efforts (see Octopus, covered by The Brief this past summer) than in spending for useful, but perhaps less exciting, tools that move things forward incrementally. KU also had the misfortune to already exist—funders tend to prefer to pay to create things but have less interest in maintaining things (David wrote about this back in 2019). As Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” 
Enter Wiley, who clearly saw some potential in the system that KU had built to help “libraries and publishers reduce complexity through seamless online services to approve, pay, and manage their open access transactions and maximize the impact of library budgets.” Whether the initial purpose of KU, crowd-funded flips of books to OA, survives this purchase remains to be seen.

Source: Knowledge Unlatched, Wiley, The Scholarly KitchenPublishing Perspectives


Speaking of the need for a clear business model, ResearchGate continues to lumber along without one, still under the shadow of an ongoing infringement lawsuit from Elsevier and the American Chemical Society. But it is also slowly accumulating publisher partners. The latest are a bit confusing. ResearchGate recently announced content syndication arrangements with Hindawi andRockefeller University Press. The odd aspect of these deals is that they cover only the hosting of CC BY open access materials, which ResearchGate already had the legal rights to host on its platform. For the publishers, there’s some benefit of getting usage data from ResearchGate on the articles that were likely going to be posted there anyway, and given Wiley’s existing partnership with ResearchGate, it’s not surprising to see their subsidiary Hindawi added to the mix.
While these open access (OA) article arrangements are unnecessary, they make some sense for ResearchGate’s wishes to either pivot to a publishing services model (with publishers and academic institutions presumably as a customer) or ultimately sell to major publishing house. These deals inch ResearchGate further toward positioning itself as a community platform rather than a source of ongoing copyright infringement. 
ResearchGate has much at stake in the ongoing lawsuit—and the winds are now blowing against them with recent changes to EU copyright law. ResearchGate remains the closest thing this side of Sci-Hub to Roger Schonfeld’s proposed “Supercontinent of Scholarly Publishing,” but there remains no clear sustainable business model for such a venture outside of services. It is simply too small a niche to thrive off of digital advertising, which is itself under increasing danger of collapsing. In a fully-OA journals market, can ResearchGate gather all of the literature onto one platform and build a lucrative services layer on top, thereby competing with the likes of Clarivate and Elsevier? The problem for ResearchGate is time: they are running out. It will be years yet before enough of the literature is OA to aggregate and have a meaningful representation of the scientific corpus (and even then, non-OA archives will prove vexing). It is also time consuming and expensive to build a services business. And in the meantime, they are burning cash. 

Source: Enago Academy, STM Publishing News, Newswise, The Scholarly Kitchen, Medium


Martin Eve and Anthony Cond offer a thoughtful look at the state of open access (OA) monographs, particularly in light of the announcement of the UKRI’s mandate and the launch of cOAlition S’s principles for OA monographs earlier this year. As they note, this is a period of great uncertainty as to how these goals can be turned into sustainable and equitable practices. Eve and Cond declare this to be an exciting but crucial period for OA book models and urge patience with what may at the moment seem overwhelming and complicated.
The article reminded us of the OA Books Supply Chain Mapping project that C&E completed last year for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). One of the real struggles in developing new models for OA books is the misalignment between the goals of funders and the incentives in the existing supply chain. New models either have to function within the framework of these misalignments or rely on new routes for publication and distribution that aren’t yet fully baked. One conclusion from the study, however, must remain front of mind—journals-based standards and models will not readily graft to OA books.
It’s worth reconsidering the state of OA journal models in this light. Rather than undergoing a fecund period of experimentation, the author-pays article processing charge (APC) model was locked in early on as the one true route to an OA world. The APC model was developed by entrepreneur Vitek Tracz as part of a for-profit business (one which was fairly rapidly sold off to an even larger for-profit business before questions of sustainability or scalability or equity needed to be answered). It should thus be unsurprising that the larger for-profit publishers have come to dominate OA journals in much the same way that they dominate the subscription model (and also unsurprising that they have done so by shifting the author-pays model to an institutional payer via transformative agreements). Only now, as the (in retrospect) obvious inequities and problems of the APC model are being pushed to the fore, are we starting in on a period of experimentation with new models, which is made even more difficult by the combination of impatient funders and rapid consolidation of the market around the APC model.
The OA books market, by the happenstance of moving more slowly, has a chance to establish more solid footing, with better-suited models. The key question is whether the UKRI’s 2024 timeline will allow a sufficient period for exploration before at least a portion of the market locks itself into a model.

Source: Research Information, UKRI, cOAlition S, BISG, Wikipedia


It will come as no surprise to readers of The Brief that researchers consider the perceived reputation of journals in research assessment. This article in PLOS ONE by Morales et al., attempts to unpack the concepts most associated with journal reputation, specifically “high quality,” “prestigious,” and “high impact.” Unsurprisingly, the study, which is based on a relatively small sample of researchers in the United States and Canada, found that researchers define these concepts somewhat differently. This aligns with extensive research conducted by C&E over many years into how researchers select which journals to submit papers to. And yet, despite having variance in definitions, researchers in a given field typically agree on what the top journals for that field are. In that sense, this study appears to be missing something fundamental. Researchers do not generally disagree on which journals have good (or bad) reputations, only on the rationale they provide after the fact to explain that established reputation.

Source: PLOS ONE



eJournalPress, a long-established manuscript review and submission system, has been acquired by Wiley (the acquisition was announced as The Brief was going to press—we will provide more commentary on this deal in the next issue). 
Kaufman Wills Fusting & Company (KWF) has been acquired by KnowledgeWorks (KGL). KWF was among the first consulting firms to form in the scholarly publishing industry—and one of the many companies to be founded by staff departing Lippincott Williams and Wilkins (now a division of Wolters Kluwer), which was a kind of accidental incubator as much as it was a publishing house. KGL has acquired the consulting arm of KWF and KWF Editorial, which provides editorial coordination and support services to publishers. 
Knowledge Unlatched has been acquired by Wiley (see Item 2 above).
Open Road Integrated Media, one of the first companies to apply digital marketing techniques to books, announced an agreement to be acquired by a group led by David Steinberger, former CEO of Perseus Books Group and then of Arcadia Publishing. Joining in the transaction were private equity firms Abry and MEP (which recently bought Rosetta Books) and Open Road client Grove Atlantic. Founded by Jane Friedman in 2009, Open Road’s demonstrated the longevity and profit potential of long-tail backlists by improving sales not only of ebooks but also print volumes.
Osmosis, a medical education platform, has been acquired by Elsevier
Rievent Technologies has announced that it has sold substantially all of its assets to HealthStream. Those assets include a popular learning management system (LMS) for continuing education providers in healthcare. HealthStream is both a provider of aggregated continuing medical education (CME) and the creator of Jane Analytics, a reporting analytics solution (primarily for nursing education). It’s an interesting combination, and perhaps a sign of how content and analytics capabilities might reinforce one another in this space.
RR Donnelley announces it will be acquired by Atlas Holdings who intends to take the printer private. 
Simon and Schuster’s planned acquisition by Penguin Random House is on shaky ground as the US Justice Department sues to block the deal over concerns of market consolidation. 
ProQuest’s acquisition by Clarivate, which had run into some regulatory turbulence, has closed. Roger Shonfeld posits that the deal is a second order effect of an industry shift toward OA models. With primary research being increasingly open, value shifts to platforms and services built on top of open content and data. Clarivate will not, according to Shonfeld, be able “to provide something approaching an enterprise platform solution for scholarly research and academic instruction and learning.”



Harmony Faust has joined ITHAKA as Vice President of Marketing

Robert Kiley has left the Wellcome Trust after more than 25 years of service. We wish him the best in his new position as Head of Strategy for cOAlition S.

John Kritzmacher, Wiley’s Chief Financial Officer, plans to retire at the end of 2021Christina Van Tassell will join Wiley as his successor.

Sara Miller McCune, co-founder of SAGE Publishing, has signed over her voting shares and control of the company to the SAGE-SMM Trust, ensuring that SAGE will in perpetuity remain an independent company and never be sold to another publisher.

Eleonora Presani, arXiv Executive Director, steps down this month.

Peter Suber steps down as the Director for the Office for Scholarly Communication at the Harvard Library and now will serve in a new role as Senior Advisor on Open Access.

Caroline Sutton was named as the new CEO of the International Association for Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers (STM). For STM, this appointment marks a milestone on the association’s journey from a focus largely on the protection of copyright to a participating community member in an Open Science future. Sutton, as a co-founder of OASPA and former SPARC board member, brings Open Science credibility to the organization. As evidenced by last year’s proposed OSTP open access mandate, which went through multiple rounds of review and months of conversation with all of the major US federal funding agencies before anyone thought to leak its existence to publishing industry lobbyists, STM and their US counterpart AAP have largely been excluded from a seat at the table as publication policies are developed. Sutton will hopefully open some doors for publishers to be part of the conversation. For STM’s largest and most influential publisher members, Sutton’s appointment is evidence of their commitment to a transition to open access and a sign that their business strategies for making that shift are largely established and in place.

Briefly Noted


Springer Nature retracts 44 papers filled with gibberish published in (wait for it) special issues. Again. Does no one even read these before publishing them? Bueller
Kudos organizes a Climate Change Knowledge Cooperative, a collection of summaries of climate research papers for a general audience. There are even some papers with keen applicability to publishers, such as this one the carbon footprint associated with paper and (most alarmingly) this one on the impact of climate change on vineyards
Memory lane at the Mobile Phone Museum: how many of these do you recognize? Blackberry 7290 we fondly remember your tactile keys and the unobtrusive light that flashes when an unread email awaits. 
Journal of Universal Rejection: “Rejection will follow as swiftly as a bird dropping from a great height after being struck by a stone. At other times, rejection may languish like your email buried in the Editor-in-Chief’s inbox. But it will come, swift or slow, as surely as death. Rejection.”
Iceland’s response to the Metaverse: the Icelandverse.

Any property that’s open to common use gets destroyed. Because everyone has incentive to use it to the max, but no one has incentive to maintain it. — Neal Stephenson